Just after 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 26, the Castle Valley Fire Department was paged to what was described as a cabin fire at 413 Cliff View Lane. The structure was fully involved when the first engine arrived a few minutes later and the high winds caused a spot fire on the opposite side of the road. Fueled by strong, erratic winds that fire quickly spread westward toward Homestead Lane with several homes in its path.
As the fire raced across the fields, it came within feet of five homes but was stopped by a combination of the fire crews, homeowners and good defensive space around the homes. As a result, no homes were destroyed. A small barn and shed were destroyed across the street from the original fire, destroying books and personal belongings of the property owners. The heat was so intense from those two buildings that it broke the glass in two windows of the nearby home.
The cabin was completely destroyed by the fire but the blaze did not harm the adjacent home, which was located just a few feet away. The cabin was actually an historic building of sorts in that it was constructed for a Geronimo movie set, which was filmed in the area during the 1990s, and moved to the location sometime after the completion of the movie. It was used mainly for storage and an adjacent tin building that was also destroyed was a workshop and contained $30,000 worth of tools and equipment. The cause of the fire is being listed as undetermined since fire investigators could not positively determine the origin of the fire.
Electricity to Castle Valley went down that morning, causing additional problems for firefighters since nearby water sources required electrical power to pump water from the ground. The high winds were also responsible for the power outage, according to Dave Eskelsen, an information officer with Rocky Mountain Power. He said the wind forced wires to wrap around together and caused the outage. Officially, the power went out at 9:38 a.m., was restored by 2:44 p.m. and affected 517 customers in Castle Valley, La Sal and even into Cisco. Water for the fire trucks had to be retrieved from a source near Fire Station 1 on the Castleton Road.
About that time is when the telephone service in Castle Valley went down. Personnel from Frontier Communications on Saturday initially thought the density of the air was blocking the microwave signals because of all the dust, dirt and smoke, preventing the system from operating properly. Part of our phone system operates with microwave signals from Moab to Bald Mesa on the La Sal Mountains. The signals are then transmitted to a reflector on Porcupine Rim above Castle Valley to a receiver and central office at the top of Rim Shadow Lane. Underground lines from the office on Rim Shadow Lane then go to individual homes.
It was later determined that the equipment on Bald Mesa was “blown” out of alignment by the strong winds and a technical team from Salt Lake City was dispatched Sunday morning to fix the problem. This was the same crew that installed the equipment nearly a year ago when Frontier installed new equipment. Phone service was restored by Sunday afternoon. The Grand County Sheriff’s Office sent a mobile command center out to Castle Valley Saturday afternoon to be available for residents who had to report emergencies.
Since there was no way to notify residents about the phone problem and the command center, Pam Hackley took it upon herself to contact as many people as she could on each street and asked them to tell their neighbors about the situation. Although not a perfect solution, she was able to spread the word to many residents in the valley.
There were numerous reports of wind damage from members of the community during the day Saturday. Roof shingles were blown away, a complete roof was blown off of a horse barn and at least one new barbeque was lost. The valley was under an evacuation watch during the day Saturday because of our fire but also because of a large fire that was burning simultaneously on the other side of the La Sal Mountains. That fire, which has burned nearly 10,000 acres, was heading in our direction but eventually turned and is now burning into Colorado.
Our fire burned exactly 20 acres of grass and brush before being extinguished, and crews were on the scene throughout the night and the next day to ensure the fire was completely out because of the risk of reignition from the high winds.
Sixteen members of the Castle Valley Fire Department worked the fire in addition to the hard work of fire crews from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Moab Valley Fire Department and State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. Deputies from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and park rangers were also on hand to help. Especially appreciated were those who brought cold drinks, water, sandwiches, brownies and other goodies to the workers who were engaged in the fire suppression those two days.
We try to keep our little valley as peaceful and uneventful as possible, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans.